Friday, May 27, 2011

La Momia Azteca (The Aztec Mummy) (1957)
MEXICO --- horror

Dir: Rafael Portillo

In this B-grade Mexican horror film by director Rafael Portillo, we explore the unknown possibilities of life after death; particularly reincarnation. While that doesn't sound so horrific, the filmmakers decide to go the route of actually making it interesting, by throwing in some mummies and a notorious gangster/mad scientist.

In the opening, we see a shootout between police and gangsters, setting up the films antagonist, "The Bat". What's interesting here is they also reveal that this bandit at large is a kinda mad scientist in his own right, who experiments with creatures and humans. Esteemed Dr. Eduardo Almada has made advances in his studies of hypnotherapy. He suggests before a board of scientists about his experiment to use hypnosis to reveal a persons past lives. The board, being outright dismissive of the idea. He claims it could be very dangerous to the subject and that he has yet to find someone he can use. The board, realizing his studies to be incomplete without a subject, basically does not show approval. Later, Eduardo discusses the dilemma with colleagues like his flighty assistant Pinacate, and Dr. Sepulvada;  the father of his fiancee Flor (played by Mexican scream queen Rosita Arenas). It is Flora who eventually encourages Eduardo to move forward with his project. She even offers herself as the guinea pig for the project. Meanwhile, we see a masked man (The Bat) creeping around a window of Almada's home.

As Dr. Almada puts Flor under his hypnosis, "The Bat" looks on intently. Alamada begins his questioning Flor and soon gets her to go back in her memory to a past life. In flashback, she reveals that she is in the ancient Mexican city Tenoxtitlan (The Native American name for Mexico City). Her name was Xochi, a sacrificial virgin for a pagan deity named Tezkatlipoka. Alamada takes her memory to the time of her sacrifice. At this point, she reveals an Aztec warrior named Popoca, who's in love with her. She fears the desecration of her body by even kissing will be found out by the priests, and they will both be killed. They are found out and both are sentenced to death. They force Popoca to drink a sacred elixir that will drive him insane. The priests bury him alive with a breastplate and arm band, and the film spends quite some time showing the ritualistic details of the sacrificial ceremony.

When Xochi dies, Flor dies, as she actually loses a pulse and Alamada rushes to revitalize her. Almada's experiment was a success, but he realizes he needs concrete evidence to present to the board of skeptical scientists. His only solution to find his evidence in the temple of Tezkatlopoka. Meanwhile, having witnessed the experiment himself, "The Bat" contacts his gang to keep close tabs on Dr. Alamada as he sees potential in his findings. When Almada and his team arrive at the temple ruins, one of them sees "The Bat" sneaking around, but mistakes him for a ghost. Later, Almada uncovers the lower temple where they find the remains of Popoca and the breastplate. Alamda against Flor's warnings takes the breastplate as evidence, but unbeknownst to them, they awaken the mummy of Popoca. Almada returns his findings to the board of scientists, but unfortunately Almada's research is incomplete as he needs the arm band to decipher the breastplate's hieroglyph.

When Almada and team return for the arm band, they come face to face with the mummy. They escape with their lives, closing up the temple entrance behind them. It isn't before long the mummy goes after his keepsakes. The mummy of Popoca gets to Almada's home and abducts Flor. Soon, it's Almada goes on breakneck chase to the rescue, and even unmaskes "The Bat" as none other than Dr. Krupp (who will figure in the sequels), one of the board members of the science council.

"La Momia Azteca" is a mummy film, but much different than the tired old Egyptian mummy films we're used to. South American mummies have the history of these brutal rituals, even much worse than this film even scratched the surface of. The addition of adding Pinacate as comic relief is fine, but unfortunately, it's sad to say Pinacate is a racial slur in spanish. It is actually used as a name for "black" beetle stink bug. So using this character as a minstrelsy buffoon kinda takes the film down a notch for me. The use of the name "The Bat" as the villain has been used before in cinema. This character was possibly based on the famous play and film versions of "The Bat" by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood. Taking it's cue from Frankenstein as well as the mummy films, the Aztec Mummy trilogy is slightly more entertaining than one would give credit. Don't expect great cinematography or score here. A Saturday afternoon time-waster indeed.